Stop Picking on Reseda: There's Much More to Its Story
In the history of articles attempting to explain the San Fernando Valley, there's one that stands out for its foresight. "New Era Dawns for the San Fernando Valley" ran in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 4, 1923. It was a time when the uncredited author had to explain geographically where the Valley was. Back then, Canoga Park was known as Owensmouth and Northridge was called Zelzah. Reseda had only recently adopted the name of a plant as its moniker after the neighborhood's stint as Marian. The article addresses the growing wave of residential developments in the Valley, noting that the area's history "will not be concluded until each acre holds the home of a settler" and goes on to say that such density would "not seem to be the end of the story but just the beginning of a new epoch."
No doubt, Reseda is still aspiring for growth nearly 100 years later.
Located in the middle of the San Fernando Valley, Reseda is a microcosm of Los Angeles. It changes with the times, retaining some of its history while losing other chunks of it. It boomed in the middle of the 20th century, stagnated for a while and might be poised for another boom as redevelopment sits on the horizon. Also, as with Los Angeles on the whole, Reseda is more than the image projected upon it. In pop culture, the neighborhood became shorthand for the ordinary, suburban and working- to middle class. It's home of the South Seas apartments, where Daniel LaRusso and his mom land in The Karate Kid. It's where the "good girl" in Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" lives and where the protagonist in Soul Coughing's "Screenwriter's Blues" is heading to hook up with a model from Ohio.
In reality, though, Reseda is an eclectic neighborhood that, according to the L.A. Times' Mapping L.A. project, is "highly diverse" for the county. Evidence of this multiethnic community can be seen everywhere from the aisles at local grocery store Valley Marketplace to the stores and restaurants that line Reseda Boulevard.
Back in the post–World War II era, the neighborhood exploded with development, and its population increased dramatically. An L.A. Times article from 1950 foreshadows what would happen in Reseda with news of the Reseda Park housing development, intended to create 273 homes priced at $9,000 for a two-bedroom and $10,000 for a three-bedroom, with special deals for veterans. Four years later, another L.A. Times story, "Reseda, Flower of the Valley, Blossoms Into 'Big City,'" describes how the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company called the neighborhood "the fastest-growing community in Southern California," noting the high demand for telephone service. The article also points out that between 1950 and 1953, Reseda's population increased 185 percent, swelling to nearly 47,000 people. By the time the neighborhood celebrated its 50th anniversary, in 1963, it counted 68,000 residents.
Some of the relics of the postwar boom still stand, like Grover Cleveland and Reseda high schools. There are also remnants of mid–20th century residential architecture. One such example is Meadowland Park. The L.A. Office of Historic Resources notes that the area has examples of the work of architect Edward Fickett, although it points out that most of the homes have been modified over the years, so it's ineligible for historic district status.
Reseda's growth certainly came with challenges. By the mid-1960s, smog was an issue. In the early 1970s, with population increases expected to continue through the West Valley for another 20 years, locals tried to address such problems as heavy traffic and a lack of public transportation. In the early 1980s, the neighborhood was pushing for redevelopment after the advent of shopping malls curtailed business on Reseda's main drags.
In the '80s, Reseda surprisingly became something of a hub for the then-burgeoning alternative culture of Los Angeles. A local venue, the Country Club, housed shows from established artists such as James Brown and then-rising talent like U2. The long-gone venue is an integral part of L.A.'s music history, but news articles from the time portray it as a nuisance to neighbors who complained about rowdy youth heading there for punk and metal shows. Meanwhile, Bebop Records hosted performances from the likes of Jane's Addiction and Henry Rollins until it was ultimately shuttered in 1990 after being cited for not having proper show permits.
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In recent years, Reseda has once again become a hotbed of potential redevelopment. The neighborhood has seen improvements in areas like public transportation. The Orange Line's Reseda Boulevard stop is technically in Tarzana, but it's very close to the neighborhood. In 2016, news hit that Laemmle would be coming to Sherman Way and making its home inside the old Reseda Theater. The Reseda Theater Redevelopment project is part of an initiative from City Council member Bob Blumenfield called Reseda Rising, which also has plans to develop a Reseda Town Center with retail and residential space, plus a skating rink.
A desire for growth still defines Reseda — but it remains to be seen whether such growth will launch a new epoch.
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